home     authors     titles     dates     links     about

l'écluse nº 1

19 february 2015

L'écluse nº 1 starts with a drunken man falling into the title body of water. We figure he's a goner. When they fish him out, he's very much alive, but complains of falling onto another drowner. They fish the second drowner out, we figure him for dead too, but he's equally alive.

Is foul play even involved? People do fall into canals on accident, as the flop by the alcoholic Gassin proves. Mimile Ducrau (Drowner Nº 2) has been stabbed in the back before being tossed in the drink, and the blow couldn't have been self-inflicted. So yes. But too many people have it in for this waterfront boss to make identification of suspects easy.

Ducrau owns half the boats on the rivers and canals of Paris, and he wants to own Jules Maigret, too. Maigret is on the brink of the retirement we see him not getting to enjoy much in the next year's Maigret. Would he consider joining Ducrau's empire as a sort of … well, drinking buddy … for twice to four times what he made as a policeman?

Most of this insubstantial novel consists of Maigret and Ducrau drinking together, and at one point even armwrestling. Vague threats are made, people die, old secrets are revealed, and everyone goes from potted to soused to so drunk they're sober again.

Redeeming features of the novel include some lovely central-Paris local color and the occasional crystalline paragraph of description. Ducrau's son dies midway through the book, and he gets the news while drinking with Maigret up near the Quai des Orfèvres.

C'était sur le seuil, en plein Pont-Neuf, en plain soleil, avec encore les verres de vin doré sur le comptoir, et le patron à la chemise troussée sur les avant-bras, et l'étalage multicolore des paquets de cigarettes.

[It was at the shopdoor, right on the Pont Neuf, in full daylight, with the wineglasses still on the counter and the bartender with his shirtsleeves rolled up and the shelves full of many-colored packs of cigarettes.] (68)
But that's very hard to translate effectively. It's cleaner than Hemingway and more emotionless than many a high modernist. And it's the perfect matter-of-fact setting for a scene of great contrast between high emotion and even higher self-control.

Simenon, Georges. L'écluse nº 1. 1933. Paris: Presses Pocket, 1977.